IT’S curtain up for Curtains, the Kander & Ebb musical comedy whodunnit to be staged by the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in York from February 7 to 10.
After playing grouchy feed-store proprietor Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly! last year and assistant-directing The Producers in 2018, Kiss Me Kate in 2019, Made In Dagenham in 2020 and Kipps (The Half A Sixpence Musical) in 2022, Alex Schofield steps up to direct a JRTC show for the first time.
“By the time I did Hello, Dolly!,I’d already pitched to direct Curtains, after we secured the rights in spring 2022,” says Alex, who works in human resources at York Minster. “Initially, we’d looked at doing it last September but that couldn’t happen, and it’s one of those situations where it still won’t feel real until the opening night as I’ve been planning it for so long.
“I became aware of the show just before the pandemic when Jason Manford was leading the touring company in 2019 and then transferred into the West End. It came more into my provenance when it was one of those productions that could be streamed during lockdown with donations to arts funding, and that’s when I first saw it.”
This 2007 American musical, with glorious songs by Kander & Ebb and a witty and charming book by Rupert Holmes, is set in 1959 at Boston’s Colonial Theatre, where the entire cast and crew are suspects in a plucky local detective’s investigation into why the leading lady of a new musical mysteriously dropped dead on stage.
“It’s a really funny show, sending up murder mysteries and theatre groups, so that’s all three of my boxes ticked: I love comedy, I love musical theatre and I love whodunits!” says Alex, who first directed a show, The Pirates Of Penzance, for the now-defunct Jorvik Gilbert & Sullivan Company seven years ago.
“I think people should be attracted to Curtains by Kander & Ebb’s involvement. It’ll have the appeal of a classic musical; it’s very fast paced and very funny, but it has loads of tension as well, with all these characters who have different motives for murder.”
Scripted by Rupert Holmes, who was brought in after Peter Stone, the writer of the original concept and book, died in 2003, Curtains features a play within a play. A Western, cowboy accents and all, by the name of Robbin’ Hood.
“You think, ‘how extreme can I make it from real life?’, with the auditions needing to see if people could do both a generic American accent and Southwestern [American frontier] accent so that the audience can distinguish between characters in the play and characters in the play within the play,” says Alex.
Comedy is a key element in Curtains. “It doesn’t take itself seriously and in some ways it speaks more to the English sense of humour, in how it sends itself up, but what separates it from English humour is that what they say is much more direct, whereas in England, it’s all about what’s not being said!” says Alex.
“Mind you, the director of the play within the play [Christopher Belling] is English and he’s very flamboyant, never holding back with his criticisms. I don’t think that if I took his approach there would be many people left in the company! I take a more compromising position.
“The director will be played by Ben Huntley, who’s been in our shows since Kiss Me Kate in smaller roles, so to give him this opportunity and see him shine in this principal role has been fantastic.”
Set up to raise funds for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, JRTC has raised £23,000 from its productions so far, and once more proceeds will go the Haxby Road community theatre. “One of the advantages of this show, especially when we’re fundraising for the Rowntree Theatre, is that it’s a show about theatre, so we’ve made the theatre itself the set, with pretty minimal staging required for the play within the play,” says Alex.
Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Curtains, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 7 to 10, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.